October 7, 2015, by Public Social Policy


By Rupal Patel & Elena Genova

The International Centre for Public and Social Policy organised a conference on the 4th of SOpening of Conferenceeptember at the University of Nottingham entitled ‘What’s New About ‘Blue-Collar Conservatism’? The First 100 Days of Cameron’s Majority Conservative Government’.

Dr Simon Roberts’ welcome stressed the fact that ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal— a series of very important laws passed in his first 3 months of office in the midst of the Great Depression— the first 100 days of a government in office are taken as a measure that sets out the agenda at a time of any cabinet’s highest support. With this in mind, the aim of the conference was to scrutinise the indicators of the envisaged Tory agenda for the next 5 years, while at the same time looking at the ideology behind policies of the first conservative majority government since John Major. Speakers and roundtable members included Natalie Bennett— Leader of the Green Party, Andrew Slaughter— Shadow Minister for Justice,  Baroness Ruth Lister of Burtersett and Emeritus Professor Richard Wilkinson.

The conference started off with Emeritus Professor Richard Wilkinson, discussing inequalities by exploring the relationship between life expectancy and income in various countries. Through visual graphs and statistics Professor Wilkinson exhibited that greater equality benefits all social classes and not only the really poor. In his words, current inequality presents us with different perceptions of  class and ‘in a society where some people are seen as hugely important and others are nothing at all, we all become more neurotic about how we are seen’. We live in a society that is fixated on status anxiety and thus inequality is no longer merely about poverty and unfair material belonging but, has real implications for our well-being. Thus, we need to move our attention away from dominance, subordination and power, and focus on people’s quality of life. Richard Wilkinson argued there needs to be a prime focus on well-being and happiness that is primarily integrated with social networks and not solely economic means.

The subsequent speaker, Natalie Bennett, started her talk by providing an opinion on the labour leader election and said Jeremy Corbyn is ‘the start of the end of neoliberal, neo-Thatcherite economy’. Her presentation titled ‘100 days of backpedalling: the energy policies of the Cameron Tory government’ explored the lack of attention energy policies have been getting by the conservative government. Providing some context, Natalie Bennett put forward that on 14th February 2015, Cameron, Clegg and Miliband signed a letter, promising to take climate change seriously but it is utterly amazing how the government has backpedalled on environmental and social policies. However, Natalie Bennett remains positive about what to do next and by using Germany as an example where 50% of renewable energy is owned by communities; there is hope for Britain. She argues that the core problem is that the financial sector is too large and by growing the sector of renewable sources, Britain may begin to see a more balanced society that can overcome the economic and social crisis. Therefore, Natalie Bennett ends optimistically and advocates ‘we are supposed to live in a democracy, YOU are the democracy! Let’s make it happen! Let’s make a change!’

The last guest speaker to take the stage was Andrew Slaughter, Labour Shadow Minister for Justice discussing conservative justice and human rights policy. He began with the question of whether governments have a plan prior to being in office and put forward that that unfortunately is not the case  and in a talk that examined justice and human rights approaches and policies of consecutive governments gave the conference illuminating insights to how governments work while crafting pen-pictures of some well known public figures.

After such interesting and wide ranging presentations in the morning, the afternoon saw a split of six breakout sessions focusing on Cameron’s Philosophy, Crime and Justice, Education, Health, Local Government and Welfare Reform. We attended the latter two sessions, both of which saw the compelling account of the presenters and lively debates. For example, in the session on Welfare Reform, Head of School Professor Bruce Stafford compared the March and July budgets. As he pointed out, even though only 112 days apart the budgets changed dramatically with the election being the main ‘game-changer’.  Bruce Stafford, stressed that George Osborne has pledge a further 12 billion cut on top of the already planned 40 billion cuts. Moreover, he went on to investigate where those cuts would come from, demonstrating that Osborne’s budget, in fact, envisages a 13.1 billion cut on welfare with 12.5 billion outside the welfare cap. In the meantime, while the major parties have committed to the triple lock, Professor Stafford’s prediction is that none of the parties will be able to sustain the triple lock as long as they are committed to austerity measures. This was followed by Dr Jenni Cauvain who explored Tory welfare and housing policies. She noted that the private rented sector is expanding and more and more people in the receipt of housing benefits are moved to that sector.     Questioned by the audience, however, Dr Cauvain predicted that if the housing bubble exploded, it would be localised. The session on Health – The Quiet Revolution: ditching the health and social care act was equally interesting.

Professor Ian Shaw began the session ‘Discussing Reforming the Reforms’, scrutinising the NHS 5-year forward view.  He outlined that the government have backed a plan to reform the NHS to deliver within a cost envelope by drawing on PACS and MSPS models. However, delivery is lacking with hospital productiveness being only 0.5% up and it took a £822 million overspend. Ian Shaw put forward that he did not think services would deliver during the Tory government. Chris Locke, chief executive and secretary of Nottinghamshire Local Medical committee, continued with exploring the challenge for GPs. With the restructuring of the NHS and the introduction of clinical commissioning groups, GP’s have much more responsibility. He argued that we face a GP crisis and many will feel forced to leave their positions due to difficulties in managing practices. The NHS model needs to move from competition to collaboration if it is to prove to be successful. Is the five-year forward plan likely to deliver? The room remained sceptical to say the least about the future of the NHS.

After the simultaneous vigorous debates in the breakout sessions, the day continued with a roundtable that aimed at bringing all topics together. The roundtable was chaired by Professor Bruce Stafford and it featured responses on key topics from Natalie Bennett, Baroness Professor Ruth Lister of Burtersett and Andrew Slaughter MP. The main topics raised during the roundtable involved the participants’ opinion on the hot topics of the day—namely, on the Labour leadership battle and the so called Corbyn-mania; on the fairness of the electoral system and whether or not voting should be made mandatory; on the refugee crisis and many others. Natalie Bennett retained her optimism in all her responses, while Andrew Slaughter admitted to being more pessimistic. A more balanced view was expressed by Baroness Lister, who once again, pleaded for paying attention to the way we frame political discourses.

We thought that the conference was very interesting and inspiring. We also think it opened up many new areas of debate, so we invite and look forward to any comments and opinions.

Posted in Criminal justice policyEducation policyElection 2015GeneralNHS reformSocial JusticeWelfare policy